Ah, London. For all its foibles, one of the best things about living in this huge and ever-changing city is that you can find a place to indulge just about any whim or desire. Want to eat every type of cereal you could ever possibly imagine with fantastical combinations of milk and toppings (Cap’n Crunch Oops All Berries with bubblegum milk and meringues for me, please)? Do you want to decorate your entire home with paraphernalia from a Finnish children’s story? Siitä vain! Do you want to sip on hot drinks whilst petting cats? Owls? Foxes?? London is there for you, man. What about that time you wanted to grab delicious coffee, get your hair cut, and knock out that craving for ddeokbokki all at once? Believe it or not, your ideal place exists in East London. It goes by the name Hurwundeki—“hair” in the Jejueo language of Jeju Island, South Korea, where owner Ki Chul-Lee hails from.
The stretch of shops leading up to Hurwundeki don’t make for an inspiring prelude: a tire store, a garage, a window tinting shop, a used car dealership, all hunching under brightly-painted corrugated iron awnings bearing names like “POLIMAX” and “FIGARUDE” in blocky type. You’d be forgiven for breezing past, thinking that the similarly displayed “HURWUNDEKI” was another oddly named car shop in a row of oddly named car shops, were it not for the large posters of chicly-coiffed Korean models and a spread of Korean food. If you were intrigued enough to venture a look at the shop, perhaps you’d then be put off by the slightly sinister, dystopian, R. L. Stine-esque decór of the front yard, filled with rusted and peeling playground toys and a Cinderella’s pumpkin-carriage-from-hell. But carry on and inside you’ll find a shop that is expectedly ramshackle and quirky, and charming for this very reason. Depending on the time of day, and day of the week you visit, you’ll either find a quiet spot to sip a coffee and read a book or a buzzing restaurant redolent with the savory-sweet smells of Korean cuisine.
Next door in an adjacent salon, a mostly male clientele lounges and waits on shabby couches while Ki and his barber crew snip away at unruly strands, charging by time block for haircuts. At Hurwundeki, £9 gets you 15 minutes (for men) and £14 gets you 19 minutes (for women); the atmosphere and service is brisk, not indulgent like at most salons. Then again, this isn’t most salons. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, for sure. But in the main cafe room, there is something to please everyone.
The menu, while not extensive, hits all the high notes of Korean fare, including: kimchi jeon, crisp savory pancakes with kimchi folded inside; ddeokbokki, chewy rice cakes and fish cakes sautéed in a spicy chili sauce; impressive dolsot bibimbap served sizzling hot in a stone bowl with a raw egg on top; bulgogi, that tantalizingly moreish grilled beef marinated in sugar, soy, and garlic. The kimchi, as at many excellent Korean restaurants, is homemade. Though they don’t offer any alcoholic drinks, customers are more than welcome to BYOB, and there are also soft drinks and Korean fruit teas on offer to drink with your meal.
But you’re probably here for the coffee—luckily for you, it’s also good. Perched on the counter in front of the bustling line of grills and chefs, a Linea Classic paired with two Mazzers pulls shots of Workshop coffee. On quieter days, you can retire to a side table with your espresso, pondering the incongruity of a space containing both ragged brick walls and chandeliers, with top hats and a stuffed pheasant for decoration. On others, you might feel compelled to take in your cappuccino along with a spicy bowl of kimchi jjigae—I wouldn’t always recommend combining the delicate tastes of coffee and the crescendoing spiciness of chili, but it can be an interesting new experience and I wouldn’t dissuade you from trying it either.
As of late I’ve seen a few people scoff at London for it’s proliferation of niche shops and cafes—“A fox cafe? THIS IS A STEP TOO FAR”—but you know what? If it allows places like Hurwundeki to flourish, or even exist, then I’d say London isn’t so bad.
Kate Beard (@SBinLondon) is a London-based photographer and writer. Read more Kate Beard on Sprudge.